The World Humanitarian Summit: priorities for reform Contents

Annex 2: Letter to the Secretary of State for International Development

From Stephen Twigg MP, Chair

Rt Hon Justine Greening MP

Secretary of State

Department for International Development

20 April 2016

World Humanitarian Summit

Dear Justine,

As you know, the first ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) taking place in Istanbul in May 2016 is a vital opportunity to secure much needed reforms to the global humanitarian system. Support for those affected by humanitarian crises has increased substantially in recent years, with the UK’s key contribution being something we are particularly proud of as a Committee. However, the gap between needs and resources still stands at US$15 billion – its largest ever. It is the Committee’s belief that perpetual increases in financial support cannot be the only answer. Based on the evidence we received in our recent inquiry, we believe that future approaches to humanitarian crises need to be reformed in two major ways.

Firstly, the WHS must secure transformative changes to the way the humanitarian system delivers aid, not just in terms of institutions, funding models and systems, but equally in the assumptions and mindsets of major actors, including the UK. Secondly, efforts must be made to reduce humanitarian needs by tackling the causes of crises. Both conflicts and natural disasters will continue to happen, so it is up to the international community to better deliver on its responsibilities to support the most vulnerable by mitigating their impacts and avoiding major crises.

While there is general agreement on both of these points, we also heard in evidence that there has been a failure to build consensus around a priority set of proposals to be achieved at the Summit.136 We are concerned that without consensus around concrete proposals, the opportunity to achieve truly transformative outcomes will be missed, and the WHS will fail to deliver the essential reforms that are so urgently needed. We therefore propose a list of six priority areas with associated proposals that we believe the UK Government should focus on in order to build links with like-minded donors and secure the change that will deliver a more effective, efficient, people-centred approach to humanitarian crises. A formal IDC report to expand upon these points will be published in due course.

Reducing humanitarian needs

1)Upholding international humanitarian law

There is a broad consensus on the need to ensure greater compliance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL) as well as the role the WHS has to play in starting this process. Such a consensus is welcome, and we propose DFID act on it by seeking three major commitments at the WHS:

a)Universal commitment to reaffirm the principles of the Geneva Conventions and investigate and prosecute violations of IHL

b)An agreement to reinvigorate and accelerate negotiations for a global intergovernmental mechanism for IHL compliance

c)A pledge for funding to strengthen capacities of countries with weaker institutions to investigate and prosecute violations of IHL

2)Building a better understanding of resilience

We welcome DFID’s commitment to resilience building and its efforts to enable crisis-affected populations to better withstand shocks, though we also note concerns about the lack of clarity in translating this into practice.137 In the case of the Syria crisis, implementing partners have mentioned the need for more clarity about DFID’s approach to resilience building and the funding available for it.138 We believe that a concerted and coordinated effort to better understand resilience can help bridge the gap between conceptualising and implementing it, producing global standards on how to create more crisis-resistant communities. We believe that DFID should work closely with other donors and implementing partners in the build up to and at the WHS to launch an initiative to this effect.

We also urge DFID to stress that resilience building is more fitting as a general strategy for disasters. While incorporating resilience into programming in conflict-prone states – particularly with regard to food security, infrastructure and livelihoods – is welcome, there is a danger in blurring the lines concerning what people should and should not be made resilient to. We encourage DFID to reassert the idea that states’ responsibilities to crisis-affected populations lies first and foremost with IHL – under no circumstances should resilience-building be used as a strategy to mitigate IHL violations.

3)Greater emphasis on preventing and resolving crises

The manner in which humanitarian needs have consistently grown faster than humanitarian funding is partly explained by the increasing occurrence of disasters and conflicts. The WHS should emphasise the need for a shift away from reactive responses and towards proactive crisis prevention. We believe that DFID can contribute to this, firstly by a commitment to spending a fixed proportion of its Official Development Assistance (ODA) on disaster risk reduction (as called for by the UNSG), and secondly by encouraging investment in research to quantify the cost effectiveness of crisis prevention relative to crisis response.

A greater emphasis on conflict prevention should also sit within DFID’s commitment to fragile states. Often, systems to detect signs of rising political tensions are not in place or, where they are, are not heeded.139 We urge DFID to ensure that strengthening early warning systems is a key feature of the WHS, and would welcome a funding commitment to this through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). Commitments should also be sought on reacting to these warning signs, so that a peer-reviewed standard of conflict risk will always trigger commensurate action. We urge DFID to stress that humanitarian responses must always be based solely on need. Neglected crises, such as that in the Central African Republic should not be allowed to happen, in order to maintain the spirit of the 2030 Agenda concept of “leaving no one behind”.

Reforming the system

4)A new approach to institutions, systems, funding and thinking

The increasingly protracted nature of crises and the role of development actors in building crisis-resilient countries calls for the humanitarian-development distinction to be broken down. We urge DFID to scale up its own use of ‘crisis modifiers’ in crisis-prone countries, allowing for a rapid shift from development to humanitarian assistance. Other donors can be encouraged to do the same at the WHS. We also encourage DFID to use the WHS to promote accountability amongst development actors so that when entirely predictable events result in crises, such as caused by the recent El Niño, there are answers as to why. DFID should also continue its good work promoting education in crises to stress the long term development effects of disrupted education. A global assertion that SDG 4 on quality education extends to crisis-affected children should be sought as no child should be left behind.

We are also gravely concerned about the lack of separation of powers between those conducting needs assessments and those appealing for funding. We heard that this creates a lack of confidence in the system so we urge DFID to address this at the WHS through proposing an independent body to conduct needs assessments.

One of the areas where there is a lack of agreement between different actors is the need for institutional reform. Given these disagreements, we hope that DFID is in the process of finding points of convergence with like-minded donors, and building a consensus to secure necessary changes. We believe that membership of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the humanitarian system’s high-level coordinating body, should be extended to include a broader range of actors. However, we also feel that there is value in maintaining its independence from donors so they should not be included. In terms of the wider architecture of the system, we feel that this should be examined and were disappointed to see that the relevant High-Level Leaders’ Roundtable was dropped from the final WHS programme. Despite the absence of such a high-level forum, we urge DFID to keep the discussion alive among other donors to ensure that no possible means by which to improve the humanitarian system is ruled out.

While institutional reforms are important, we stress that these are a necessary but not sufficient condition for true change. Securing genuine reform means a complete rethinking among humanitarian actors of how humanitarian assistance can best be delivered with the needs of the affected communities always prioritised above all else.

It is widely agreed that a different approach to funding humanitarian crises should be sought at the WHS. We urge DFID to push for a commitment across all donors to a reoriented funding model that invests in longer term needs. This should include an enhanced role for the World Bank through a review of the eligibility criteria for International Development Association (IDA) assistance as well as an expansion of the Crisis Response Window. DFID can also play an instrumental role in championing risk transfer mechanisms such as climate insurance at the WHS and should negotiate multi-year commitments for the G7 InsuResilience initiative.

5)Making the system truly global

One message from the UNSG’s report and the pre-Summit consultation, that was echoed in evidence to us, is the need to give crisis-affected people a voice through inclusive local involvement in responses. DFID is already doing excellent work in this respect through the START fund, and we recommend that the model of pooled funds managed by NGOs be replicated and supported by the Department including with the Southern-led NGO network set to be launched by ADESO at the WHS. DFID can also contribute to this agenda by stressing the importance of subsidiarity in humanitarian responses – supporting local organisations rather than running in parallel to them or crowding them out. As the world’s largest contributor to the country-based pooled funds, we also urge DFID to press for increased allocation to local actors.

A genuinely global system should be more inclusive. Despite DFID’s efforts (such as through its own Disability Framework), the humanitarian system often falls short in addressing the needs of particularly vulnerable groups. We urge DFID to secure a pledge on global standards of inclusivity in the humanitarian system from all donors and funding recipients. This should include a drive to promote diverse leadership within the humanitarian system, so that the interests of vulnerable groups are reflected in processes driving decision-making and funding allocations.

6)Address unintended consequences of counter-terrorism legislation (CTL) and humanitarian responses

While we recognise the importance of the security of international financial flows, we are concerned that, in certain circumstances, NGOs are not able to operate effectively due to unintended adverse consequences of counter-terrorism legislation. We commend DFID for taking steps to address this issue domestically, but we urge it to use the World Humanitarian Summit as a platform to address this problem at the global level. This should involve the opening of a dialogue between all parties concerned (the financial sector, NGOs, national governments, etc.) to explore solutions to these problems. We also urge the UK Government to explore the proposal of reasonable exceptions in counter-terrorism statutes for humanitarian activities, as in jurisdictions such as Australia.

The Committee feels that addressing these points is essential to a successful WHS and thus a more effective and efficient future humanitarian system that both taxpayers and crisis-affected people deserve. We believe in the UK Government’s commitment to this cause, and we strongly recommend that the Prime Minister consider attending the Summit to reinforce this commitment and show the world that the UK will continue to stand behind the most vulnerable.

Stephen Twigg MP

Chair of the Committee


136 IRIN (DAS0032) para 4

137 Q9

138 DFID Syria Crisis Unit, Humanitarian Programme Process Evaluation, para 3.8

139 Q87




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6 May 2016